Game Building on a Budget: Tips from the New York Social Gaming Summit

From your desktop to the palm of your hand and straight into your virtual wallet, social games like Farmville are among the hottest ways to make a business out of wasting time with friends. The Social Gaming Summit is an all-day event of talks on how to build, monetize and distribute new social games.  Previously held in London and San Francisco, the conference made its New York debut yesterday at the New Yorker Hotel.  Attendees flew in from as far as Russia and China to hear what industry leaders had to say about building social games in an increasingly competitive market.  The speakers shared valuable insights on how bootstrapped startups can get their share of the pie.

Mobile Platforms: Android vs. iPhone

At the conference, Paul Chen of PapayaMobile noted that publishing games on mobile devices is more complex than publishing them online, but because there are three times more mobile subscribers than PC and Internet users, it’s worth the effort.   Apple is easier to monetize because of the higher quality of its content, said Chen, but on the Android new games have less competition.  The Android is also better for submitting new games because the approval process is faster than on the iPhone.   His advice: try it out on the Android, work out the bugs, and put the game on the iPhone when it’s ready to hit a wider market.

Distributing on Facebook

Facebook has been cracking down on viral channels for games since 2008 and Arkadium founder and chairman Jessica Rovellosaid this trend will continue in 2011.  Under the new restrictions, companies will have to be creative to grow their audiences.

On September 21, 2010 Facebook took games off the news feed, limiting viral channels to discovery stories and invites.  A discovery story occurs when a friend plays a new game and the game is posted in the status update.  Fortunately, under the new guidelines, the number of friends needed for the game to show up in the newsfeed is down to one instead of five and now a picture and text will appear along with the status update.  A current loophole for invites – which may be closed soon, said Rovell0 – is the wall post that shows up when a friend invites another friend to join the game and that update can be viewed by friends of friends.  To encourage more invites, Rovello recommends incentives like gifts of virtual currency, which users can then share with their friends.

When organic viral channels fail, said Rovello, everybody – whether they admit it or not – uses advertising to attract new users. For small businesses Rovello recommends Facebook’s self-service advertising platform. To lower the cost per click, target a general audience of all age ranges and locations.

Monetization

Smart companies rely on multiple revenue streams to monetize their games.  Katharine Lewis, deputy head of FM Ventures estimates that only 10% of gamers pay to play.  To monetize the other 90%, she recommends sponsored games that give advertisers meaningful interactions with the players, such as the Price is Right game, which inserts the sponsors into the popular television game show about guessing the prices of household items.  When a player likes the game and is thinking about purchasing additional episodes, offering deals like 50% off virtual coins will entice more users to take the extra step.

Any time a user spends money on a game, the method of payment should be simple to use and should not take the user outside the application. Paypal was at the Social Gaming Summit demonstrating their soon-to-be released integrated micropayment system for social games.  Paul Chen of PapayaMobile also cited iTunes, Google Checkout and credit card billing as current methods of payment, and in the future, carrier billing will also be an option.